When a reception is made in the NFL it’s comprised of two components - the pass to the receiver and the run by the receiver for additional yards after the catch is made. When evaluating receivers, yards after catch (known as YAC) is a tool to evaluate how well they can break coverage or get into open territory when making the catch and gain additional yards.
But what can the first component of a reception tell us about a team and its receiving and passing game?
As we know, a receiving yard includes both the yards gained in the pass to the receiver as well as any and all yards gained by the receiver after the pass is caught (known as Yards After Catch - YAC).
If we take out the yards after catch component of passing yards and focused on just the yards gained from the pass at the point the ball is caught, a statistic we will call Yards At The Catch (YAtC) - we should be able to see which teams throw the ball the furthest to their receivers and start to evaluate how the team structures their passing game.
Not an advanced NFL statistic by any means, Yards At The Catch is simply the difference between Passing Yards and Yards After Catch and totals the overall yards gained from the line of scrimmage to where the receiver caught the ball. On a per reception basis, this tells us how far downfield the receiver was when they caught the ball. The higher the YAtC on a per reception basis the further down the field the receivers are when making the catch.
We crunched the numbers for each NFL team so lets look at the YAtC for the 2012 NFL season:
On a per reception basis, the Indianapolis Colts lead the way in furthest passes down field averaging 7.80 receiving yards at the catch. At the bottom of the league is the Minnesota Vikings who had the shortest average pass to the receiver (yards at the catch) in 2012 at 4.07 yards, which was nearly 50% less than the Colts averaged.
Clearly, the Colts look to get the ball further downfield with their passes compared to the Vikings. For receivers on the Colts, by the time they get the ball in their hands they have already gained nearly 3 yards more than the receivers on the Vikings.
Interestingly, the Colts and Vikings were virtually tied in YAC yards at 1,730 and 1,713 yards, respectively. If we look at this on a per reception basis, the Vikings receivers did slightly more with the ball generating 5.71 YAC vs. 5.10 by the Colts. But on an average passing reception, the Colts out yard the Vikings 12.90 to 9.78, which is clear in the Colts with Andrew Luck are known as a passing team while the Vikings are the rushing kings of the league with Adrian Peterson.
In dissecting the numbers a bit further there is some interesting notes. For example, four of the the top ten teams in YAtC are the lowest in YAC/Rec (Jets, Giants, Bears and Dolphins), which suggests that teams passing the ball further down the field edge up against coverage in the secondary and see fewer yards after catch.
In contrast to these teams, two top 10 teams in YAtC are also top 10 teams in YAC/Rec - the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In fact, the Panthers who are the 6th highest in YAtC are the top team in YAC/Rec suggesting that this team not only gets the ball out further into receivers hands but the receivers are able to do the most with the ball after the catch. It’s clear that the Panthers and Buccaneers have highly efficient receivers.
With the Yards At The Catch (YAtC), we can gain an understanding of how far the average pass is caught downfield by teams and better understand who receiving yards are generated.